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Video Vortex #7 – Yogyakarta

On July 20-21, 2011 EngageMedia participated in Video Vortex #7 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I spoke on the second day on the  “Video Online: Impact, Effect, Affect” panel along with Ronny Agustinus of Marjin Kiri. The panel looked at the nature of networked videos in Indonesia, from celebrity sex tape scandals to human rights abuses.

I was particularly interested in 3 “witness” videos that had each sparked a major political event in Indonesia, but had had very different effects. Those videos were the mobile phone video recorded by soldiers of the torture of West Papuan farmer, the lynching in West Java of 3 people from the Ahmadiyah religious minority, and the celebrity sex tape scandal featuring boy band singer Ariel Peterpan.

All the videos have no narrative, they are captured by chance due to the ubiquity of video recording devices. They all conform to an ‘aesthetic of authenticity’ in that they are grainy, shaking and have bad sound; authenticity being associated with poor production values.

Setting the scene at Video Vortex 7, Yogyakarta, 2011

As a video activist, I wanted to know why some videos are successful at mobilising people and sparking change, and why others aren’t, even when the evidence of criminality is undeniable. Both the Ahmadiyah and Papua videos, for example, show violence being inflicted and clearly identify the perpetrators. It the Ahmaniyah can you can even clearly see the individual that delivers the “death blow” to one of the victims. Yet no one identified in the video received more than 6 months in jail. Similarly, the soldiers in the Papua video received no more than 9 months prison, and this was only after much international pressure.

These cases seem to disprove the previously held thesis that video is a powerful tool to capture abuses and deliver justice. George Orwell’s statement that “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” seems to no longer hold. The truth is clearly available, but there is a little direct link to justice.

My conclusion was essentiallly that power structures determine the political possibility, regardless of the evidence, and cultural programming determines how this media is read, interpreted and acted upon.

Video Vortex #7 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

I showed the Lost in Papua trailer as an example of the racist lens through which most Indonesian’s view Papua. Here Papua continues to occupy the space of the ‘other’. It’s dark, it’s wild, it’s violent. The torture documentation video, in fact, fits easily into this narrative and justifies attempts to control this untamed and ever violent space.

These two videos contrast with the effect of the Arial Peterpan sex tape. The result of that video was a 42-month sentence for Ariel for distributing pornography. In his case, thousands of Islamic hardliners protested at his sentencing demanding the maximum penalty. Though it must be said that many of those attending were potentially paid to be there, a common occurrence in Indonesia. While many civil society organisations were active around the Ahmadiyah case, there were no mobilisations on the same scale.

It may be obvious that political and cultural structures determine the nature of a video event and it’s impact, but I think these examples fly in the face of the current hype around video and the internet-based distribution. There is an assumption that speaking truth to power is enough.

These extreme examples demonstrate that without effective social movements, civil society and an uncorrupted judiciary and political sphere even unquestionable video evidence of violations does not bring justice.

More photos on Flickr.